We Need Each Other’s Voice to Sing
Thomas Troeger (1945 - )
© Oxford University Press Inc., Administered by Oxford University Press, Oxford, reproduced by permission.
In the dawn of creation, God said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a suitable helper for him.’ (Genesis 2: 18) Years later, an ancient thinker said that two are better than one: helping each other up if they fall; keeping each other warm at night; supporting each other if they are attacked (Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12), and in 1748 Charles Wesley developed this theme in verses for Sally Gwynne, his future wife: ‘Two are better far than one for counsel, and for fight’. Published in a group of ‘Hymns for Christian Friends’ in his Hymns and Sacred Poems (1749), it was always more of a love poem than a hymn, and not ideal for congregational singing, though with slight alterations it held its place in Methodist hymn books for many years.
John Donne in the 17th century reminded us that no man is an island – we are all part of each other, and during the period of severe lockdown we have all mourned the loss of family members or friends without the usual processes of grieving or thanksgiving.
So, in these days of isolation and social distancing, when we have been taught to fear the contact that might contaminate us, we need a hymn which explores why we still need each other, in the church, in fellowship, and as members of the Body of Christ. We can sing alone; we can sing in virtual choirs; but we wonder whether we will ever sing together in real choirs and congregations, in places where we used to sing the songs of faith and community.
The New Testament letters remind us that we are ‘members of one another’, (Romans 12: 5 and Ephesians 4: 25), but in life we always have to find a balance between dependence and independence, between carrying our own burdens and helping to carry one another’s. With social distancing, people might look at us suspiciously if we try to help carry their burdens, but we cannot accept this as the ‘new normal’. ‘Love is giving and receiving’, as Brian Wren reminded us in his hymn, ‘Life is great, so sing about it’, and other hymn writers have said similar things in different ways, echoing the New Testament again: ‘Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs’(Colossians 3: 16 and Ephesians 5: 19). This is essentially a corporate experience, like the singing of tens of thousands around the throne of God.
In some hymns we address God directly in the form of a prayer or a hymn of praise. In others, we address one another, in shared humanity, or as fellow believers. The four verses of Thomas Troeger’s hymn, ‘We need each other’s voice to sing’, are full of rich, inspirational ideas, combining elements of reflection, exhortation, and pure praise. We need each other to help us sing the songs we want to sing, and to set the whole world singing, in one universal song of praise.
The melody begins with God, who inspires both the will and the deed. True harmony is a blend of all our voices, stirred and energized by the living Word of God. The music is enhanced by the loving words and actions we share in Christlike sympathy with one another, as an expression of eternal love. Together we are stronger than our individual efforts, and our united praise is more profound. Together we see that God is much greater than our own individual experience, and we learn that God’s family is more diverse than we had ever imagined, embracing every class and nation. We are like living coals, keeping the fire of the Spirit aflame, as we individually are sustained by the breath of the Spirit, renewing and empowering our faith and our song.
We need each other’s voice to sing
The song our hearts would raise,
To set the whole world echoing
With one great hymn of praise.
We blend our voices to complete
The melody that starts
With God who sets and keeps the beat
That stirs our loving hearts:
We give our alleluias
To the church’s common chord:
Praise, O praise, O praise the Lord!
We need each other’s strength to lift
The cross we’re called to bear.
Each other’s presence is a gift
Of God’s incarnate care.
When acts of love and tender speech
Convey the Saviour’s voice,
Then praise exceeds what words can reach
And we with song rejoice:
We need each other’s views to see
The limits of the mind,
That God in fact turns out to be
Far more than we’ve defined,
That God’s own image shines in all,
In every class and race,
And every group receives the call
To sing with faith and grace:
We need each other’s voice to sing,
Each other’s strength to love,
Each other’s views to help us bring
Our hearts to God above.
Our lives like coals placed side by side
To feed each other’s flame,
Shall with the Spirit’s breath provide
A blaze of faith to claim:
(Thomas Troeger, b.1945)
God of hope and unity, draw us together in your love, sustain us by your Spirit’s power, and help us to sing our songs of praise with faith and grace, as your image shines in us, reflecting your glory. Amen
Sing the words to John Barnard’s tune, Checkendon, or listen to the hymn sung by Southwark Cathedral Choir, on the recording, ‘Timeless Love’, (Herald AV Publications, HAVPCD 321, 2006).